Whew! It has been quite a week in this country. The election seems to have brought out the worst in everyone, just before the vote and since the results were announced. I’ve been pondering on several topics connected to what has gone on and what people have talked about (or yelled about or written about in scathing words), and one has been the great divide in how people see wealth, or the lack of it. I have observed a lot of heated discussions about the rich, the poor, and what it means for individuals and the government to provide aid to the poor (thereby “taking” from the rich or even the middle class in the form of higher taxes).
What I’ve thought about is that everyone can give of their time and talents, whether they have money to spare or not. Money is not the only resource we all have. Even the poor can give of who they are and what they’re good at.
I live in California, where there are particularly bad problems with the economy, the state budget, and social programs, particularly education. I’ve observed in just the past four years while I’ve lived here most recently just how much education has suffered. Class sizes have gotten larger and larger, and schools’ budgets have gotten smaller. At the same time, I’ve been encouraged to see individuals doing all they can to help schools by just giving of their time. I have four children, one in high school, one in middle school, and two in elementary. My youngest is in half-day kindergarten. The teacher, as most do, asked through notes home if any parents could help out in the classroom. Given that I volunteer in a variety of capacities and write and do editing (part time, the only thing for which I earn any money) out of my home, I can’t give a lot of time to one area, but I can try to do something. So I told the teacher I could help out once a month. I did that the first time a few weeks ago, sitting in the back of the class and helping students with some projects. I watched the teacher manage a huge class of 30 5-year-olds. THAT is a huge job, let me tell you. I also watched one other parent sit at a table and go through all of the children’s daily folders and check that homework was done and everything was in order. She relayed the necessary information to the teacher. I was amazed to learn that this parent is there EVERY DAY, for the whole 3 1/2 hours the students are in the classroom. She volunteers that much of her time. And believe me, it definitely looked as if the teacher would have a hard time doing without her. She was pretty busy with that class FULL of little kids.
Not everyone can give that much of their time. But everyone can do something. Giving of ourselves makes us truly human, in all the best ways, I think. And it brings such a sense of satisfaction to us, while we’re providing needed help to others. It’s important for each of us to give of ourselves voluntarily and from the heart. At the same time, however, I think some people can sometimes use a little nudge. This is the only place in this post I’m going to really write about my “political” view, but here goes: I firmly believe that if people are being given assistance, from the government or from a faith-based organization or other group, then they can give something back for that aid. I love how Habitat for Humanity works: it requires that people give “sweat equity” to help build their own homes. They are provided a wonderful new home of their own, and they put in hours to build it and others’ homes. That’s part of why I like to donate money to that organization; I like its philosophy. I don’t think that requiring this kind of “payment” is all about “fairness,” though that is a part of it (if you’re going to get something, you should work for it in some way); it’s also about helping people to feel that they are valuable and able to give, able to work somehow. Those who are just given things without earning them tend to not feel as confident about themselves. So… I’m not against there being a government-sponsored safety net. Everyone ends up in a rough patch at one time or another, so it’s vital to have something available. But I would like to see that those who use that net for a while give back. Hunt for a new job, perhaps, for half of your day and spend the other half volunteering somewhere. This is just a general idea.
At any rate, I salute those in our society who work hard to take care of themselves (that’s SO many of you!), and then still spend more time working hard to help others. Whether you give money or time or any other of your particular resources, you are helping to build and maintain civilization.